London, England – The service of thanksgiving for Commissioner Helen Clifton, held in the assembly hall at William Booth College, London, UK, was a fitting tribute to a woman of God. Countless examples were given of how she did so much for others throughout her Salvation Army officership, from early days as a corps officer through to her last appointment as World President of Women’s Ministries, supporting her husband, General Shaw Clifton (now retired). The congregation of family, friends and Salvationists filled the newly refurbished assembly hall.
Following a presentation showing snapshots of the commissioner’s life, and the entry of The Salvation Army flag adorned with white ribbons, the Chief of the Staff (Commissioner Barry C. Swanson) took the lead of the meeting, saying: “We meet to remember the life and influence of Commissioner Helen Clifton. We are not the same for having met her.”
The Chief acknowledged the presence of General John Larsson (Retired), former world presidents of women’s ministries Commissioner Freda Larsson and Commissioner Gisèle Gowans, and former Chief of the Staff Commissioner Robin Dunster. He then led the large congregation in a song before Captain Lynne Clifton (Commissioner Clifton’s daughter-in-law) and Cadet Naomi Shakespeare (soon to be daughter-in-law) prayed.
“Thank you for Commissioner Helen’s life of dedicated service,” prayed Captain Clifton. “Thank you that she’s safe and at peace in your everlasting arms.” Cadet Shakespeare gave thanks that Commissioner Helen lived all of her life for God, and asked that he would teach all present to do the same.
Captain Marcus Collings (son-in-law) read from Hebrews 13 and Bromley Temple Songsters sang ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ before Commissioner Sue Swanson (World President of Women’s Ministries) read a tribute from General Linda Bond. The General said that all her life Commissioner Helen Clifton had responded to God’s call. “We thank God for her beautiful, powerful life,” wrote the General. “She was a catalyst for change, a woman of prayer.”
Commissioner Helen’s three children each paid his or her own tribute. Captain Matt Clifton drew comparisons between his mother and ‘Solomon’s perfect woman’ of Proverbs 31. He told how, despite her busy schedule, she visited her sick grandson in hospital every day and would sometimes arrive at their home – 60 miles from London – to do their ironing before heading into the office. She empowered others, for example providing women in Pakistan with English language lessons, the captain said, and taught him much about marriage in the way she and his father cared for each other.
Captain Jenny Collings spoke of her mother’s wisdom, beauty and gentle yet determined nature. “She always encouraged me to be myself and empowered me to find my wings.” However, the greatest impact, she said, was seeing her mother caring for others in practical ways while also caring for her own family.
“I don’t understand why this [the commissioner being promoted to Glory] has happened,” she continued, “but because of the timing many more people are observing her life – and God has been glorified. What an adventure she had and is still living … We haven’t lost her; we know where she is.”
Cadet John Clifton said that over the next few weeks his mother will continue to inspire him as some of the most important occasions of his life take place. The following day he would sign his officer’s covenant, then on the weekend he would be commissioned as a Salvation Army officer, and two weeks later he would be married.
As an officer, he said, he will remember her involvement in people’s lives, her successful quiet protest against ‘adult’ advertising in the local newspaper and her actions in Jesus’ name for the liberation of the oppressed. In his first corps appointment he will remember how she adapted to every situation, whether that meant taking an interest in local sport in the UK or trying to learn the Urdu language in Pakistan. When he marries he will remember her example as a spouse and a parent, and how his parents “loved each other even when things were tough.”
“She will be missed but she will provide inspiration,” he concluded. “We hope you are inspired by her story, as we are.”
Enfield Citadel Band played ‘Song of the Eternal’ before Commissioner Sue Swanson brought verses from Revelation and the Chief of the Staff gave the Bible message. Not only had a classic girl-meets-boy love story been remembered during the service, he told the congregation, but another love story as well – that of God’s deep love for humankind. “No matter how we feel, we are never alone,” said the Chief. “God has not abandoned us.”
He concluded with a challenge for those present to think about what they are doing with the life God has given them: “Perfection has come for Commissioner Helen; the divine love story is complete for her … We celebrate eternal life for her.”
Major Brian Slinn (corps officer, Bromley, where the Cliftons were soldiers) offered prayer and a benediction, asking God that the memories of Commissioner Helen Clifton would remain precious and that her example would encourage others to follow him the way she did.
Earlier in the day the chapel at Beckenham Crematorium was full to overflowing with people wishing to pay their respects to Commissioner Clifton. Officers, Salvationists and friends representing Salvation Army work all over the world united in their deep appreciation of the commissioner’s life and influence.
Majors Brian and Liv Slinn offered prayers and readings, thanking God for the selfless ministry of the commissioner and asking him to strengthen and support her loved ones. Psalms 23 and 24 were shared; pointing to the love and sovereignty of the Heavenly Father whom Commissioner Helen Clifton knew and served over many decades.
Report by Major Leanne Ruthven with contribution from Major Stephen Poxon